Saturday, May 7, 2011

Lots to like -- Mike Goldbach's DAYDREAM NATION -- plus an interview with filmmaker


Seems like every time Kat Dennings makes a movie, she's discovered all over again. My first memory of her is from Down in the Valley, followed by The 40-Year-Old Virgin and two surprisingly good films London and Charlie Bartlett. Then came The House Bunny, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (in which she finally got a starring role), The Answer Man and now DAYDREAM NATION -- in which she's the star once again. Dennings always connects with her character -- leading role or subsidiary -- and with her audience. We come away wanting more, and now, finally, we're getting it.

Though most of the films in which this actress (shown on the poster above and at left) has appeared have been good (some much better than that), what Dennings has not yet had is a starring role in a hit movie -- something that would place her permanently on the chart. Soon, let's hope. Meanwhile, we can content ourselves with Daydream Nation, a much better than average coming-of-age-as-the-world-may-be-ending flick that features good work from Dennings, Josh Lucas, Andie MacDowell, Reece Thompson and its entire cast.

Written and directed by Mike Goldbach (shown at right), who, back in 2004 co-wrote the OK-but-less-interesting ChildStar, Daydream Nation is actually his first feature as director, and he proves himself more than up to the task. What distinguishes this work, I think, are his disparate interests -- coming-of-age, serial killers, inter-generational sex, parenting, education, the environment (to name a few) -- and the manner in which he's been able to enfold these rather seamlessly into his film. Daydream Nation appears quite contemporary, with a surprising amount of wit and feeling but a minimum of snark.

There's a terrific scene in the girl's rest room, during which the character played by Dennings gives a deserved dressing-down to a classmate who's been belittling her. We're in awe because this is one memorable speech. Yet a couple of scenes later, Dennings uses the same ironic, nasty words on her would-be boy-friend. Now, the speech no longer carries much weight, and said bf (played very well by Mr. Thompson, above) manges to diminish it with one simple sentence. This is very smart screen-writing that first has us basking -- then pulls us up short.

The movie has no real villains -- except maybe that aforementioned serial killer, who in any case is the weakest link in an otherwise strong chain of situations and events. Mr. Lucas (above) gives another in his continuing parade of fine performances in unusual roles (Coastlines, Undertow, Death in Love, Tell-Tale, Stolen) and one absolutely terrific and mostly unsung performance in the better-than-you've-heard, would-be blockbuster, Poseidon. The actor even goes platinum-blond for our edification, as he evolves from sexy, in-charge teacher to embarrassing sap without missing a beat. And yet, by the end of Goldbach's film, all the characters are seen in a light that allows them their flaws -- and their humanity.

This fish-out-of-water tale of a smart city girl forced to begin anew with her dad in a small-town school drops its information glancingly, often surprisingly. Notice the smart and oddly moving way in which we find out what happens to Dennings' father (a good performance by Ted Whittall: the getting-to-know-you scene between him and Ms MacDowell, above, is delightful ). Important subsidiary characters, from classmates to siblings to teachers, are also handled with flair by Goldbach and his cast (that's Rachel Blanchard as the gym teacher, below).

This is such an interesting movie that its cursory and highly limited theatrical release -- which began yesterday, May 6, in New York (Village East Cinema) and L.A. (Laemmle's Sunset 5) -- seems not enough.  From Anchor Bay Films, Daydream Nation will be out on DVD & Blu-ray on May 17. If you're not within driving distance of these two east coast/west coast theaters, save the movie to your NF, BB or GC rental queue now.

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We spoke via phone with writer/director Mike Goldbach (below) at his California home. In the interview below TrustMovies appears in boldface and Goldbach in standard type:


 You're originally Canadian, right?

Yes.

But I’m talking to you in L.A. Do you live there permanently now?

What I usually try to do is to live six months in Toronto, where I’m from, and six months in L.A. It doesn’t always work out that perfectly, but generally we try to do it this way. And it’s lovely, too, so I am trying to sustain this for as long as possible. I identify as Canadian, and I would love to be able to also live and work there. But there are just not enough screenwriting jobs.

I went on the IMDB and looked at your resume, so tell me what you’ve been doing between Child Star and now. And how did ChildStar come about?

I was able to co-write it because of Don McKellar, who was a kind of mentor for me. He hired me right out of film school. ChildStar was his concept. He brought it to me, and said, I have this idea: Do you want to help me write it? I could not have been more thrilled. He’s really a down to earth, amazing guy.

Not like the character he played on Slings and Arrows? Maybe more like the guy he plays in Last Night -- which is one of my favorite films of all time.

(Laughs.) Not at all like the guy on Slings & Arrows! His movie Last Night gives you a more of a hint of him and actually encapsulates Don, I think: Intelligent and ironic but underneath warm-hearted and moving. That’s what Don is really like.

What did you do between ChildStar and Daydream Nation?

Basically I was just a struggling screenwriter between times. I wrote most of Daydream Nation before ChildStar was ever released.

Wow—why did it take so long?

Getting your first film done is really hard. I have sold some specs scripts meantime, but, really, getting people to trust you as a director is not that easy.

It’s all about trust, then?

You know: making a movie can cost millions and this requires a lot of different tools, skills. All that requires real trust.

Even in Canada? I would think there’s more trust there…

Canada is a very small community -- especially its film production. Everybody knows everybody and has probably worked together at some point.

I guess everybody goes elsewhere at some point, too – like you -- and then comes back for awhile?

My goal is to work on mainstream Hollywod product while I’m here in L.A. And then go back to Canada and work on the things that are a little more left-of-center.

Left-of-center sounds good to me.

Actually, I believe that coming down here to L.A. has made me a better writer. Because it’s more competitive here, this has forced me to better hone my craft.

Did you change the Daydream Nation script a lot in production?

Surprisingly, not so much. For the most part it was a very short shoot -- 22 days – so there wasn’t time to improvise around the script. We had to be very focused.

And you were. The film, the performances, the ideas – everything seems focused, and on the same page, to me, at least.

I feel like one of my main jobs as director was to make sure that we were all on that same page, and moving in one direction.

Of what nation does Daydream Nation refer? Canada. The U.S.? Both?

I really do think it’s both countries. And I think it is about a certain teenage state of mind.

What I got from the film’s title was a country that would rather daydream than handle its problems – that out-of-control environmental fire, teaching kids, growing up, etc. Yet you do not preach about this. You just indicate that the problems are there -- in the midst of the life being lived.

I love your interpretation. I really think it’s important when you’re making a film that you withhold judgment of your characters.

And that’s what you do! You don’t make anyone an out-and-out villain.  And speaking of:
What was it like working with Josh Lucas? He’s such a good actor and so willing to put himself on the line.

He was unbelievably fantastic to work with. I really think that he is one the most under-rated actors we have. Josh is one of those actors who is so naturally handsome that he wants to distract from that that and play against that. He is ready to dive in and do anything. He’s completely fearless.

I think it’s wonderful how we first see him as a good teacher, and then, --damn!-- he slowly starts falling apart right in front of us.

I like to think of it as this way: His character is just putting his passion in the wrong place.

One of the things I liked best about Daydream Nation is your writing. It’s just really very good. An example would be Dennings’ wonderful speech to the girl in the rest room. We just go with it and think: brilliant! But then she tries it again on her boyfriend, and the second time it loses luster. And then he simply destroys it with his line about, Yeah, but maybe they have kids and are happy….. This is particularly good writing, I think. It keeps us on our toes and sort of off balance.

You know, it’s funny but sometimes, people completely seem to have missed that second moment. They hear the first time but not the second one, where Caroline gets her armor punctured by someone who is simply optimistic and sweet. That all it takes. When I write I like not having just a single perspective but instead, opening up a little and letting in some air.

Because of the film's sort of cursory release – and right before it goes to DVD, too – I was both surprised and pleased at what generally good reviews it has received.

Me, too!

Do you think it might last more than the first week in theaters here?

I would think not – because of the DVD release so soon after: on May 17. The movie actually opened earlier by a few weeks in Canada, and it's still playing there. It played really well all over Canada, in fact -- in Calgary, Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa.

Anchor Bay is the distributor here. Who has it in Canada?

Enterainment 1. And they’ve done a fabulous job with it, too. I think the movie’s destiny is a little bit “sealed” at this point. Which is kind of hard for me. But I think that it may find its real audience on DVD and maybe turn into a kind of cult movie. I’ll feel good if that happens.

Anything else you want to say that journalists never seem to ask you.

No. These are all really great questions. I can’t think of anything else to say.

What about your next project. Is there something else in the works?

Right now I am writing a film for Mark Waters, the director who made the Freaky Friday remake and Mean Girls. The script is a remake of a South Korean film called Castaway on the Moon. It is romantic comedy, and sort of very surreal. And really charming.

I'll hope to be seeing that one soon.

If and when ours gets made, it’ll be quite different – and also quite awhile from now!


All photos are from the film itself except that 
of Mr. Goldbach, third from top, 
which comes courtesy of TheGate.Ca

2 comments:

Sex Mahoney said...

Excellent review of a very quiet movie. And an interview with the director to boot. Thank you.

James van Maanen, said...

You're welcome, Sex. And thanks for commenting.